Women’s rugby scrums for record-breaking 24 hours

This weekend marked the greatest undertaking of the season for the Williams and Keene State women’s rugby teams: a 24-hour continuous match to raise money for breast and colorectal cancer and to attempt the elusive Guinness World Record for the longest women’s rugby match. The event had an ominous beginning: Both our teams walked onto the pitch amidst snow flurries and freezing rain, and kickoff was taken under 20 mph winds. As the hours progressed, winds only picked up and hail started pelting us. Between rotations, players were being led back under tents to get treated for hypothermia and try to keep as warm as possible despite the conditions. By 10 a.m. there was some legitimate concern as to whether or not we could continue to play if the weather didn’t let up. Only the forecast’s promise of better weather by noon kept us going for those first four hours.

Sure enough, around noon, the rain and sleet finally let up and both teams’ morale picked up. The remainder of the afternoon was played under cloudy skies and light mist – perfect rugby weather.

Initially, the Williams (WWRFC) plan was to play a rotation of players on a schedule of an hour of play with a half hour of rest, while Keene State started off rotating players after every two hours for an hour of rest. But the half hour of rest and two hours of continuous play proved strenuous for us, and both teams started seeing an increase in injuries almost immediately. After trying a number of different configurations, both teams finally settled on a stable rotation: two groups per team that rotated one hour on, one hour off. Dining Services was a huge help in providing a constant stream of healthy snacks and meals for the players. Numerous donations supplemented both teams’ efforts in the form of food, warm clothing, cots for the players to nap on and large overhead construction lamps to light the pitch throughout the course of the night. The match was streamed live on the Internet and played at the Log on Saturday night. The live streaming enabled various players’ families and team members abroad to tune in from around the world. The crowds that cheered on both teams throughout the course of the night were also a huge source of inspiration for the players. Among the exuberantly cheering fans were WWRFC alums, men’s rugby, entrymates, professors, deans and members of the Williamstown community. These included a hilarious group of rowdy Ephs who ran in at 1 a.m. equipped with bullhorns, rousing the sleeping players for another rotation.

By then, the rotations consisted of only nine or 10 players instead of the usual side of 15. One point in the night saw the White Dawgs down to a mere seven, though they still played hard. The play saw a sudden increase in intensity in the middle of the night, possibly the product of a burst of adrenaline, accompanied by a huge increase in the number of tries scored per rotation, at one point averaging almost five tries per hour. The lead oscillated between Keene State and Williams during almost every rotation at this point.

After 20 hours, the large clock that was keeping time completely gave out, but the players were still working hard. Fortunately, back-up plans had been in effect from the get-go, and official timekeepers with hand-held stopwatches had been keeping time all along. Around 4:30 a.m., heavy fog swept over the field and play got more slippery. A number of players from men’s rugby came out to touch-judge for the women. In the last six hours, as the teams started shifting around their lineups and experimenting with different players in new positions, a particularly exuberant water-carrier helped keep things fun.

As the first hints of dawn started to peek through the clouds around 5:30 a.m., we experienced another surge of spirits as we began to near our goal. After 22 hours, the sidelines were teeming with spectators and every person on both teams, whether injured or on a rest rotation. The cheering and screaming intensified as both teams amped up the pace of the play in the last couple hours, a truly astounding feat after 23 hours of tackling and sprinting. At last, the 24th hour came into view and the cheers of the crowd could be heard among all the residential areas surrounding the pitch. To ensure there would be no time-keeping mishaps, we kept playing for five minutes beyond the time limit.

After 24 hours, five minutes and 15 seconds of play, the rugby pitch erupted in noise as the whistle sounded three times, signaling – finally – the end of of the match. Both teams surged to the middle of the pitch and cascaded into a pile of pink and blue (the Keene State and Williams jerseys for the match corresponded to the colors symbolizing breast and colorectal cancer, respectively) with the spectators joining in to congratulate both sides. The pitch was transformed into one massive circle of players, coaches, spectators, fans and medics for the presentation of the plaque officially pronouncing the world record. The miserable weather of the previous 24 hours gave way to a beautiful, cloudless Sunday morning. The final, unbelievably high scores on either side were 818 for the White Dawgs and 711 for the Owls. The tally of donations has exceeded the $10,000 goal and will hopefully continue to increase until collection closes on May 1.

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